During SMX Advanced this week, Joy Hawkins confirmed that ads are indeed coming to the local pack.
This development is not unexpected, and Google has always tested and expanded where in search results they might insert advertising. Indeed, this isn’t the first instance of Google introducing advertising related to Google Maps, and search marketers have been writing about advertising in Google Maps for over six years now. The difference this time is the maps results (aka local pack results) on Google’s primary results pages are now having advertising inserted into it — something that has always been populated by organic only results.
Image Credit: The Verge
Why Is This Change Happening Now?
Google has been paying more attention to the way consumers discover businesses at the local level for a good reason: according to Google, the number of “near me” searches has surged 34x since 2011, and 88 percent of those searches involve a mobile device. During those near me searches, consumers quickly research and discover businesses nearby — moments of decision making that Google refers to as micro-moments. This shift means that although the amount of real estate for traditional paid ads on search engine results pages (SERPs) has shrunk in general, Google continues to experiment with new formats that include advertising at the local level, especially for mobile searches.
What Does This Change Mean for Brands with Multiple Locations?
Businesses that manage locations, especially multiple locations, need to address a number of important implications resulting from ads coming to local packs:
- Organic real estate is shrinking:</b> With one third of the local pack listings in Google’s SERPs now being shifted towards paid ads, the competition for the remaining two will become fiercer than ever. It’s more important than ever that businesses treat their location data as a precious asset that is actively managed, organized, made accurate, and distributed to be visible where consumers conduct near me searches. Because the local pack lists a minimal amount of data to support a local search result, it’s absolutely crucial for businesses to get their basic name, address, and phone (NAP) data accurate. (Read the SIM Partners CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management for more best practices.) That said, it feels like this decrease in non-paid results could result in more people clicking on “More places” at the bottom of the local pack, which would, in turn, increase the amount of impressions that businesses currently ranked 4-7 would receive in the Local Finder results.
- A holistic local search strategy is critical: As I noted in a recent blog post about Google Maps, brands need to develop a coordinated paid/organic strategy that allows them to dial up their voice when appropriate and follow through on the increased awareness by making it easy for customers to find your locations. A paid strategy works best when you complement it with a foundation of strong location data.
- Having a compelling user experience of location pages is a must: For any business that wants to compete for that top spot in these new local pack ads, having a user experience that keeps visitors on pages is incredibly important for Quality Score purposes. The Google Quality score is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. The Quality Score is a crucial metric. As Google notes, higher quality ads can lead to lower prices and better ad positions. (Google explains more about the Quality Score here.)
- There may be an additional benefit: businesses that offer a product or service in areas that they don’t physically exist an alternative way to appear in the local pack results other than spamming Google My Business with fake locations.
What Should I Do Next?
The bottom line is that businesses managing locations have fewer opportunities to appear in local pack results organically when consumers conduct near me searches. As a next step, businesses should assess the health of their location data. Is your location data accurate? Have you shared your location data with the major data aggregators and publishers that ensure your locations are found when consumers conduct near me searches? And since the overwhelming number of near me searches are conducted with mobile devices, are your local listings optimized for mobile? Being found naturally at a local level is getting more challenging in the new world that Google is creating. You need a strategy to support your findability with location data. Contact us to discuss how we can help.
To no one’s surprise, at the 2016 WorldWide Developers Conference, Apple showcased powerful new capabilities for its Siri voice-activated intelligent assistant. But Apple also did something else too: reassert itself as a powerful force shaping the future of location marketing. Businesses that manage multiple locations need to be ready for a slew of new changes by treating Apple as an amplifier for their location data across an ecosystem of discovery that spans apps ranging from Apple TV to Maps. Here is a quick snapshot of those changes:
Smarter Apple Maps
With iOS X, Apple has redesigned Apple Maps and opened up the app to developers, giving Apple Maps capabilities that make local discovery smarter, more interactive, and seamless. For instance, when you open up Apple Maps, Maps proactively suggests a route to different places such as work or restaurants based on what Maps knows about your habits at various times throughout the day. Once you are on the road, Apple Maps will inform users of alternate routes and distances to places that seem interesting to the user. Slick features include a new “Dynamic View,” which adjusts the zoom level based on how fast you’re driving and how long this stretch of road is. Many of these changes amount to Apple taking some of the advances the company made with app indexing in iOS 9 and pushing the results and data collected beyond Spotlight and Siri results directly into native apps like Maps.
Even more significant, though, are the changes coming to Maps as Apple opens up Maps to third-party developers via Map Extensions. With Map Extensions, Apple Maps will be a more useful all-in-one feature for on-demand living. For instance, as Apple demonstrated, users will be able to use Maps to search for places to eat, book a reservation via OpenTable, and order an Uber ride to their destination, paying for all transactions without even leaving Apple Maps. Consequently, Apple Maps will become a stronger destination not only to navigate but also to conduct transactions in a frictionless environment.
I’m speculating here, but as I learn more about the way Apple Maps is evolving, I envision businesses making their locations more intelligent and minimizing the friction of converting “near me” moments of intent into “next moments” of business for the brand. For instance, a hospital could insert a Schedule an Appointment call to action directly into the business cards in Maps results if a user has authorized Maps to allow that action to happen.
Siri: Smarter and More Pervasive
Apple is also making Siri an even smarter and more common discovery tool especially by opening up Siri for third-party development.
For instance, if you are looking for movies to watch on Apple TV, you will be able to use Siri to do more natural, intuitive searches, such as “Find high school comedies from the 1980s,” and on YouTube, “Find Steph Curry’s 3-point shots.” Users will also be able to conduct intelligent searches on their Macs, ranging from “Find me my work files from Ken marked DRAFT” to “What new movies are playing this Friday?” And you can pay for the movie you find by using either your iPhone, desktop, or tablet because Apple is integrating Siri across all devices.
By integrating Siri across multiple devices, Apple recognizes that no single platform owns the discovery process. If we’re doing especially rich, complicated research — say, researching lodging or flight options as we plan a family trip, or researching a personal medical issue before we search for physicians — we might start on our desktops. Then we might toggle over to our iPhones when we move from a broader discovery for narrower searches on the go. Apple understands we live in a multi-channel world, with mobile at the center. And now Siri.
By allowing third-parties to build more intelligent voice controls, Apple is strengthening Siri’s position within the discovery ecosystem as Apple fights with Google to win the war for intelligent search. For instance, Apple’s Craig Federighi demonstrated how to use Siri to make a command with another app, in this case WeChat: “WeChat Nancy that we’ll be 5 minutes late.” From there, you can use Siri to manage functions ranging from getting an Uber ride to booking dinner. This more seamless functionality will accelerate the uptake the voice search by making voice commands more natural and easier to make across multiple apps. As analyst Mary Meeker noted in her popular 2016 Internet Trends report, voice search is one of the key trends influencing how people live and how businesses operate. Google has been anticipating this change for some time.
At 2016 WWDC, Apple has made it clear that it expects to be the center of discovery, which includes local discovery. It is essential that businesses sense and respond by optimizing your location data for Apple, which is one of the major “data amplifiers” ensuring that content is found where people conduct “near me” searches across the discovery ecosystem.
Google Maps has always been an important place for businesses to be visible. Now Google has given businesses a reason to turn Google Maps into next moments of discovery via promoted content. The advent of promoted content on Google Maps means that businesses can expect free real estate to start disappearing on Google Maps — and it’s all the more important to pursue a holistic paid/organic search strategy.
Next Moments and Google Maps
A next moment is a term SIM Partners created to describe the action that occurs after someone finds your brand through a search, typically on a mobile device. Next moments can occur anywhere searches are done, including apps such as Google Maps.
Next moments are critical for any business that operates locations. Being visible in search results puts you in the consideration set when people look for things to do, places to go, and things to buy. When you offer content such as a mobile wallet offer or a booking widget, you encourage the next moment, such as a visit to your store to make a purchase.
In a May 24 blog post, Google made some important announcements that, in effect, make it easier for businesses to create next moments on Google Maps by publishing ads and promoted content on their Google Maps locations:
- Businesses that enable location extensions on their AdWords accounts can display ads for their locations on Google Maps. Your ads appear in two places: within the search results list when people conduct near me searches; and on Google Maps themselves where your location appears. According to Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice President, Ads and Commerce (and author of the blog post), your ad may also have a Directions button so that a searcher can easily get directions to your business.
- Google is also experimenting with ways to make businesses easier to find through promoted content as people conduct near me searches. As Ramaswamy noted, “For example, Maps users may start to see promoted pins for nearby coffee shops, gas stations or lunch spots along their driving route.”
- Local business pages are becoming more interactive. To encourage searchers to visit your location, Google is adding new features to your Google Maps pages such as special offers and the ability to browse your product inventory.
You get the picture: Google Maps is becoming a playground for promotable content.
We’ve been seeing this change coming. For instance, last year on our blog, we noted that Google was making gas stations more prominent on driving routes on Google Maps (as Apple was doing). As we noted, Google was showing the name of the gas station, its distance from the driver, and how to get there — certainly not the same as promoted content, but definitely nudging Google Maps to a more brand-friendly experience. The addition of Pit Stop on iOS was another sign of Google connecting the dots between businesses and consumers using Google Maps to assist in navigation and discovery.
But features such as Pit Stop were more oriented toward enriching brand discovery in a more organic way, and they reminded businesses of the importance of being findable with accurate location data. The features Google announced May 24 are clearly geared toward businesses are willing to advertise.
Why the New Features?
So why is Google making these changes? As Google noted, Google Maps is a bridge between the online and offline worlds — and the successful conversion online-to-offline searches is not only of interest to Google advertisers but to Google to remain relevant to how consumers discover brands.
These words from Ramaswamy jumped out at me:
We’re also making it easier for marketers to bridge the digital and physical worlds. With location-related mobile searches growing 50% faster than all mobile searches, it’s clear that consumers are moving seamlessly between online and offline experiences. So it’s important to help marketers think this way too.
Not only are consumers seamlessly moving between online and offline experiences, they’re seamlessly moving along the sales funnel: 80 percent of local searches on mobile phones convert. According to Google, nearly one third of all mobile searches are related to location. Google Maps is all about mobile.
Google also intends to make measuring online-to-offline foot traffic more common so that brands can track their progress, too. In 2014, Google launched Store Visits, a feature that relies, in part, on Google Maps data to help businesses measure the offline impact of online ads placed on Google. On May 24, Google announced the availability of Store Visits to a broader range of advertisers.
It’s no coincidence that the expansion of Store Visits is occurring alongside the disclosure of a more brand-friendly Google Maps. Google not only wants to encourage next moments via advertising, the company wants to make them happen on Google platforms — and Google has the data (from Google Maps) to measure the success of those next moments.
What Should Businesses Do?
My advice to businesses that operate locations is as follows:
- Set the foundation with location data. You can’t create next moments without first being found. Job One should be making your location data accurate and then sharing that data with Google so that your locations appear when near me searches occur on Google Maps. Treating your location data as a competitive asset requires a strategy and ongoing management, as we discuss in more detail in The CMO’s Guide to Location Data Management.
- Develop a coordinated paid/organic search strategy. With free real estate on Google Maps and search engine results pages shrinking, brands need to develop a coordinated strategy that allows them to dial up their voice when appropriate and follow through on the increased awareness by making it easy for customers to find your locations. A paid strategy works best when you complement it with a foundation of strong location data.
- Be smart about creating next moments. Don’t use promoted content to plaster boring billboards on Google Maps. Winning next moments means creating contextual content such as offers customized by place, season, and the circumstances of the discovery.
As Google enriches company brand pages for Google Maps, businesses should take advantages of the opportunity to create rich, descriptive content and experiences that turns discovery into business. Contact us to talk more.
We’ve been actively following the Google My Business API updates for as long as they’ve been happening, and the recently announced Version 3 API update is no exception. As with the Version 2 update, Version 3 makes it possible for businesses to make a number of updates to their locations which previously needed to be done manually. In addition, the update introduces new functionality that businesses can manage only through the latest version of the API. This announcement should matter to anyone who manages multiple locations as it underscores Google’s commitment to support location marketing through data. And since Google is a market bellwether, the API should impress upon businesses the need to manage location data as a competitive asset.
The API supports a number of processes at the local level, which needed to be completed manually previously. For example, a company can select a primary photo for its Google My Business page. Google uses those photos to power its knowledge graph, local finder, and Snack Pack search results, among other places. The API also uses filters to understand which locations have had suggestions made to their information, if any locations have been suspended, and if there are any duplicate listings in GMB. Other processes that can now be managed via the API include:
Transferring locations to different accounts. This could be important for agencies that manage SMBs with a lot of changes in management.
Seeing the status of all locations associated with your GMB account to understand if they are verified or unverified.
Even more exciting are the new functions available to make a business’s location more valuable to people conducting near me searches. Though GMB, businesses can add a deeper layer of location information, or attributes, beyond foundational location data such as the business’s name, address, and phone number. Attributes consist of content details such as the services a business provides and additional detail that may not apply to all businesses, such as the availability of free parking. Whereas foundational data builds an identity for a location, attributes help people conducting near me searches decide whether to visit the location.
The API update also makes it possible for businesses to read and respond to Google reviews through the GMB API. Previously, marketers could pull reviews through the Google Places API, but they could not pull reviews and respond in one place.
What the the API Update Means
Once again, Google is sending a message through its actions: in Google’s world, location marketing is getting bigger and bigger. By now you’ve read the data Google has published about near me searches increasing 34x since 2011. Google is reading not only the data but also the tea leaves and sees location marketing in its future. The GMB API updates continue to show that empowering brands to build a stronger location marketing foundation through data is the key to succeeding in that future. We’ll be talking more about the implications of the GMB API update soon. Meanwhile, contact us to discuss the impact of Google’s latest market-making move on your business.
Image Credit: PixBay
Everyday search is evolving, and Google has made adjustments to its product roadmap based on the shift in search behavior.
In my most recent Search Engine Land byline, I share how Google is responding to changing search behaviors. For example, Google is creating physical products like Android Wear, Chromebooks, and driverless cars. I also urge marketers to sense and respond to change just as Google is.
Image Credit: ampproject.org
Google has gone live with its Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project, which is an important development that pushes marketers toward embracing the mobile Web. According to Google, AMP is “an open source initiative that embodies the vision that publishers can create mobile optimized content once and have it load instantly everywhere.” In practical terms, AMP provides technical standards that developers can use to make Web pages load instantly on users’ mobile devices. Here’s a quick overview that breaks down AMP:
1. What is AMP all about?
First off, AMP is not an algorithm update. It’s an open-source framework for building mobile pages. AMP is first and foremost about improving the user experience on mobile devices due to how poorly optimized most sites are for mobile users.
As Greg Sterling reports (citing Yahoo data) in Search Engine Land, only five percent of mobile media time is spent with the mobile web, partly because consumers prefer apps owing to their better user experience. Google wants to address this imbalance by improving the mobile Web ecosystem that includes Google users, brands, and partners.
2. How is AMP improving the user experience on mobile devices?
3. Who benefits the most from AMP?
AMP is primarily going to be useful for publishing sites like blogs and newspapers for the time being. As The Guardian reports, AMP promises “to eliminate those excruciating seconds between tapping a link on your smartphone screen and being able to read an article on your favorite news website.”
And let’s not forget that Google benefits from AMP. Google wants to keep users on the open Web, Googling content on our mobile devices and then consuming that content — instead of using walled gardens such as the Facebook mobile app or Apple News.
4. Is AMP another Mobilegeddon?
5. What should marketers do about AMP?
Google wants to see an efficient and useful mobile Web. If you are a brand marketer, the question isn’t “should I be using Google AMP?” but “How can I improve the mobile experience?” As I wrote recently in Search Engine Land, Google is inventing the future of location marketing in many ways — and creating a mobile “near me” future is one of them.
The SIM Partners Velocity platform is well suited to manage location marketing content in the mobile universe. Contact us to learn how we can help you.
Think of a time when you have been in a new city, and have wondered where the closest restaurant or ATM is. With mobile playing a critical role in our lives, most people turn to their devices in that moment to find a location that’s closest to them.
Luckily for us Google is now autocompleting “near me” on mobile and desktop for many branded and non branded categories. In my latest Search Engine Land byline, I share how by doing this, Google is responding to what consumers want in our mobile era. I also discuss how Google is shaping the future of search through developments such as Mobilegeddon and the release of the Google My Business API.
Brands have to be sure to stay ahead and be ready for change. Do you have questions on how to ensure your brand is visible for near me search results? Connect with me, I’d love to discuss.
Google is now making it easier for consumers to find what they are looking for nearby by autocompleting “near me” for keywords traditionally associated with local search.
Google serving local results for queries isn’t new — location is a key piece of context the algorithm uses to generate relevant search results. As Google reported last year, “near me” search interest has increased 34 times since 2011 and more than doubled last year alone.
But what is clear is that when it comes to search, “near me” is the new normal.
In 2013 when Google’s Local Carousel rolled out, I looked at 54 keywords that triggered carousel results. With Google autocompleting “near me,” I decided to do a similar analysis of some non-branded terms.
Below is a list of 135 keyword terms that I tested both on desktop and mobile — over 90 percent autocompleted “near me” on desktop searches and 78 percent autocompleted “near me” on mobile.
Queries Triggering “Near Me” Autocompletes on Desktop and Mobile:
home improvement store
real estaste agents
Queries Triggering “Near Me” Autocompletes on Desktop Only:
Queries Triggering “Near Me” Autocompletes on Mobile Only:
Queries We Were Surprised That Didn’t Trigger a “Near Me” Autocomplete Suggestion:
mortgage loan officer
A couple of quick takeaways:
- “Near me” is a given on mobile. When people search for something like “movie theater” on a mobile device, Google automatically dials up the location aspect of the algorithm to a point that the difference between the set of results returned with or without “near me” is negligible.
- The algorithm is discerning intent. Some of the keyword “near me” autocomplete variances are classic examples of Google’s ability to discern intent. For example, if a consumer searches “movie theatre,” they are most likely looking for the theaters that are closest to where they are in that moment in time — but if someone searches “DVD,” the algorithm can discern that they probably aren’t looking for the nearest dvd to them.
Google is clearly looking to provide searchers with the most relevant results as possible, and location is a key piece of context that can drive relevance. To be visible in “near me” moments of search, brands should actively manage and distribute their location data — including name, address, and phone information as well as store hours of operation — to Google via the new Google My Business API, as well as other data amplifiers.
As the world becomes increasingly mobile, consumers expect to get what they want anytime, anywhere. Brands need to actively manage their location data to ensure they are there where and when people are searching.
Are there any other keywords you’ve seen this for? Connect with me, I’d love to discuss.
Apple’s iOS 9 has made Apple a more compelling platform for “recovery search,” or searches that are done to recover information about a business that a consumer has visited already. In my latest Search Engine Land column, I discuss the opportunity for enterprises with multiple locations to make themselves more visible by capitalizing on Apple iOS 9’s recovery search capabilities. Consumers are going to rely on their mobile phones to search for what they want in the moments that matter most. How will your brand respond? Read my column and let’s discuss your own strategy.
Image Credit: Apple Insider
Image Credit: Search Engine Land
Just when you think Google can’t become more powerful, along comes its recently announced relationship with Yahoo to remind us of Google’s influence. As you have probably heard by now, Google and Yahoo struck a nonexclusive deal in which Google will provide search ads for Yahoo’s search results, and Yahoo can run organic search results through Google, not just through Bing. The relationship between Google and Yahoo underscores why enterprises should view a handful of influential publishers such as Google as the foundation to amplify their own local reach.
One of the most significant aspects of the Google/Yahoo agreement is that Google is providing search ads for Yahoo search results. Yahoo used to display Bing ads exclusively with its search results, owing to an agreement between Yahoo and Microsoft. But earlier in 2015, Yahoo negotiated a new Microsoft relationship that permitted Yahoo to have more say in its choice of ad providers. The Google/Yahoo deal shows how aggressive Google has been to capitalize on Yahoo’s desire to monetize search more effectively. The Google/Yahoo partnership gets AdWords back into Yahoo results so that Yahoo can better monetize the diminishing search traffic Yahoo is receiving. Consequently, local marketers will likely soon be able to target consumers using Google’s AdWords platform — thus enriching the tools at their disposal.
Google has exerted more influence with organic search results as well. Bing used to be the exclusive provider of organic search results for Yahoo, but the renegotiated Microsoft/Yahoo relationship also opened up the door for other platforms to provide organic results — and Google waltzed right in and became one of those platforms. Now, Yahoo has more choice to route organic search queries to both Bing and Google. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Yahoo will attempt to mash up Bing and Google organic results, but such a scenario feels unlikely. Expect Yahoo to test performance when serving up the two different search results and using the data set that provides a better search experience and more revenue. The data set could very well vary based on factors such as the type of query or the device being used to do a search.
The Yahoo relationship certainly casts a spotlight on Google’s influence, but obviously Google isn’t the only major publisher in the industry. Google may have muscled in on Bing’s turf with Yahoo, but on the other hand, Bing is the default search engine for Apple’s Siri voice-activated assistant, which gives Bing an advantage with voice search. And of the major publishers — Apple, Bing, Facebook, and Google — are main players for amplifying an enterprise’s location data. I advise clients to:
- Take another look at your local marketing strategies — in particular, your location data strategies — and assess the strength of your relationships with the major publishers as well as aggregators that supply data to them. How have the importance of sites providing citations shifted in the local ecosystem? Should your strategy shift with them? The same players redefining the search landscape are also changing local marketing, especially by making it more essential that businesses partner with them to amplify their location data. The major publishers should form the foundation of your local marketing partnerships, complemented by relationships with smaller publishers in key verticals.
- Assess the breadth of your local marketing beyond search. The Google/Yahoo news is all about search, but the influence of the major publishers goes beyond search to touch all aspects of local marketing — as noted, by making location data more important.
The big players are shaping the future of local marketing through the relationships they form and the innovations they develop. Contact us to explore the impact of the Google/Yahoo relationship has on you.